Health Literacy for Public Health Professionals Resources

On this page, you will find the list of resources for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s online course, Health Literacy for Public Health Professionals.


An Overview of Medical and Public Health Literature Addressing Literacy Issues: An Annotated Bibliography

The National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy created this report presenting results from a computer-assisted search of the medical and public health literature addressing literacy issues in health care and in health promotion and education published between 1990 and the end of 1999. This bibliography includes 241 citations which are arranged into a variety of categories.

Health, Communication and Literacy: An Annotated Bibliography

The Centre for Literacy compiled an annotated listing of articles on literacy and health published from 1990 through 1998. Articles are arranged alphabetically by keywords.

Understanding Health Literacy and Its Barriers

The National Library of Medicine’s bibliography provides a comprehensive list of health literacy citations from varying disciplines and publications from January 1998 through November 2003, plus selected earlier and later citations. The bibliography is divided into specific topic areas.

Current Bibliographies in Medicine/Health Literacy

The National Library of Medicine’s bibliography was compiled to help define and describe the evidence base for advancing health literacy programs by examining theories, strategies, and tactics in the published literature. It covers articles from January 1990 through October 1999, plus selected earlier and later citations.


Doak CC, Doak LG, Root JH. Teaching Patients with Low Literacy Skills. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: J. B. Lippincott, 1996.

Osborne H. Overcoming Communication Barriers in Patient Education. Gaithersburg, MD: Aspen Publishers, Inc, 2001.

Thompson TL, Dorsey AM, Miller KL, Parrott R, editors. Handbook of Health Communication. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003.

Schwartzberg JG, VanGeest JB, Wang CC, editors. Understanding Health Literacy: Implications for Medicine and Public Health. Chicago, IL: AMA Press, 2005.

Zarcadoolas C, Pleasant AF, Greer DS. Advancing Health Literacy A Framework for Understanding And Action. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2006.

Cultural Competency

CDC’s Health Equity Guiding Principles for Inclusive Communication emphasize the importance of addressing all people inclusively and respectfully. These principles are intended to help public health professionals adapt their communication products and strategies to the specific cultural, linguistic, environmental, and historical situation of each population or audience of focus.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Minority Health. Cultural and Linguistic Competency.

HHS Health Resources and Services Administration. Cultural Competence Resources for Health Care Providers.

HHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Setting the Agenda for Research on Cultural Competence in Health Care.

Curricula and Educational Resources

A Physician’s Practical Guide to Culturally Competent Care

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health developed this guide that includes cultural competency curriculum modules designed to equip family physicians with awareness, knowledge, and skills in cultural competency to better treat the increasingly diverse U.S. population.

California Health Literacy Initiative Health Literacy Resource Center:

The Health Literacy Resource Center is a central resource for health literacy information and training. It is a one- stop shop for Web-based health literacy resources. The information is provided for literacy practitioners, health care professionals, adult literacy and ESL students, and anyone who seeks a clear understanding of health information.

El Paso Adult Education Health Literacy Curriculum

The El Paso Community College Health Occupations Literacy Project provides health literacy and cultural competency training for medical and health care professionals and trains youth and schools on health education topics using community health workers.

Harvard School of Public Health, Health Literacy Curricular Resources

The Harvard School of Medicine, Health Literacy Studies, offers a collection of materials, including a series of plainlanguage glossaries, plain language materials for Seniors, and how-to-guides focusing on participatory processes anddiversity.

Health Literacy Public Health Forums: Partners for Action

The National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy developed this guide to assist public health professionals and members of departments of health to conduct a forum on health literacy and thereby raise awareness about health literacy and links to health outcomes.

World Education, Health and Literacy Curricular Resources

World Education provides educational resources and projects summaries on how to integrate health topics into basic skills instruction, trains health care providers how to develop easy-to-read materials and forms, and provides online courses for entry-level health care employees and adult education students to prepare for college programs leading to nursing and other allied health professions. World Education charges a few for some programs and resources.

Funding Opportunities

Federally Funded Research

CDC links to many health literacy funding opportunities, research findings, and training initiatives on its Federally Funded Research web page.

Guides and Manuals

Accessible Health Information Technology (IT) for Populations with Limited Literacy: A Guide for Developers and Purchasers of Health IT

This guide and checklist, developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Resource Center for Health IT, are intended for developers and purchasers of health information technology (HIT) that is designed to be accessed and used by consumers. This guide can be used to evaluate HIT products and to direct and validate a developer’s work.

Clear & Simple: Developing Effective Print Materials for Low-Literate Readers.

This guide, developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, outlines a process for developing publications for people with limited-literacy skills. The guide features both proven principles and a discussion of real-life issues that individuals developing low-literacy materials face, such as the constraints of time, budget, organizational pressures, and the government publications process.

Health Literacy Study Circles

These guides, designed by Dr. Rima Rudd fromHarvardUniversityandtheNationalCenterfortheStudyofAdultLearning and Literacy, are intended to help literacy instructors integrate health literacy skills into their curriculum.

Quick Guide to Health Literacy

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s Quick Guide to Health Literacy is for government employees, grantees, contractors, and community partners working in healthcare and public health fields. The guide provides information on key health literacy concepts;  techniques for improving health literacy through communication, navigation, knowledge-building, and advocacy; examples of health literacy best practices; and suggestions for addressing health literacy in your organization.

Rhode Island Health Literacy Project Health Literacy Toolkit: Better Communication for Better Care

This toolkit offers resources to help physicians/providers and their staff address communication challenge that may result from patients’ literacy levels or language/cultural barriers.

Simply Put: A guide for creating easy-to-understand materials

The guidance in Simply Put helps you transform complicated scientific and technical information into communication materials your audiences can relate to and understand. The guide provides practical ways to organize information and use language and visuals. This guide will be useful for creating fact sheets, FAQ’s, brochures, booklets, pamphlets, and other materials, including web content.

Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective.

The Toolkit for Making Written Material Clear and Effective is a health literacy resource from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. This 11-part toolkit provides a detailed and comprehensive set of tools to help you make written material in printed formats easier for people to read, understand, and use.

Health Communication Resources

Beyond the Brochure: Alternative Approaches to Effective Health Communication

This brochure, developed by AMC Cancer Research Center, provides guidelines for the use of print and audio- visual materials when communicating health messages to the community.

Making Health Communication Programs Work (the “Pink Book”)

This guide, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Cancer Institute, offers planning steps for helping make any communication program work, regardless of size, topic, intended audience, or budget. The Pink Book describes a practical approach for planning and implementing health communication efforts.

PhotoNovels: Harvard School of Public Health

PhotoNovels are like comic books with photographs and captions. Two handbooks, prepared by the Harvard School of Public Health, Health Literacy Studies, provide practical examples.

This site, developed by The Plain Language Action and Information Network (PLAIN), is designed to improve communication from the federal government to the public. This website contains excellent tools and examples of plain language.

Health Information for Audiences with Limited Health Literacy

Healthy Roads Media

This site, started by the National Library of Medicine, contains free health education materials in a number of languages and a variety of formats.


This site, a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine and the National Institutes of Health, provides directories, a medical encyclopedia and a medical dictionary, easy-to-understand tutorials on common conditions, tests, and treatments, health information in Spanish, extensive information on prescription and nonprescription drugs, health information from the media, and links to thousands of clinical trials.


MyHealthfinder include links to over 6,000 government and nonprofit health information resources on hundreds of health topics. Information is in English and Spanish.

Health Literacy Initiatives and Programs

California Health Literacy Initiative

The goal of the California Health Literacy Initiative is to inform and partner with individuals and organizations to craft collective, lasting solutions which will positively impact the health and well-being of individuals with low- literacy skills, their families, and their communities.

Minnesota Health Literacy Partnership

The Minnesota Health Literacy Partnership, a program of the Minnesota Literacy Council, was formed to help coordinate health literacy efforts across the state. The Partnership’s goals are to train health care providers about health literacy, empower patients to ask for clear communication, and share health literacy resources.

North Carolina Institute of Medicine’s Task Force on Health Literacy

The task force was a collaborative effort between the North Carolina (NC) Institute of Medicine, the NC Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS), and the Area Health Education Centers (AHEC) program. The goal of the task force was to study literacy problems and develop workable solutions to ensure that healthcare needs of people with low health literacy skills were met.

Pfizer Clear Health Communication Initiative

The initiative provides a wealth of information, resources, and opportunities on clear health communication for researchers, physicians and other providers, public health professionals, the media, and those interested in public policy.

Health Literacy Listservs

CDC Health Literacy Updates

Subscribe to CDC’s weekly health literacy updates for health communicators, public health professionals, clinicians, community leaders, and anyone who communicates with the public about public health or personal health. The updates provide information and tools on health literacy research, practice, and evaluation.

Institute for Healthcare Advancement’s (IHA) Health Literacy Discussion List

The IHA hosts a listserv for the health literacy community. The listserv provides a forum to share ideas, get advice, ask questions, and make announcements. Subscribe to the listserv emails.


Public Health Image Library (CDC)

This is a public collection of photos, illustrations, and media files. Most of the collection is medical and scientific photos, but there are some photos of people and food.

Visuals Online (National Cancer Institute)

The NCI Visuals Online database contains images of food and people that can be used free of charge

Planning and Assessment Tools

Council of State Governments (CSG) Guide to Health Literacy

Using data from its National Survey on Health Literacy Initiatives, CSG published the State Official’s Guide to Health Literacy, an overview of how health literacy affects states and what states can and are doing to address this issue.

Making Health Literacy Real: The Beginnings of My Organization’s Plan for Action

This resource, developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides the steps to help you and your organization develop a plan to change organizational and professional practices to improve health literacy. Includes a downloadable template.

Harvard Health Literacy Studies

This site is designed for professionals in health and education who are interested in health literacy. The site contains a variety of research, materials, literature, and curricula on health literacy.

HLE2: The Health Literacy Environment of Hospitals and Health Centers

This resource enables you to identify and rate literacy and related factors within your organization. Findings will support efforts to improve health literacy by initiating action, identifying and action on priority areas, and measuring change over time. The resource is the product of a partnership between Dr. Rima Rudd, of the Harvard School of Public Health, and the Health Literacy Task Force of the University of Texas Medical Center.

Is Our Pharmacy Meeting Patients’ Needs? Pharmacy Health Literacy Assessment Tool User’s Guide

This tool, from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, helps pharmacies assess how well they are set up to serve patients with limited health literacy.

Readability Formulas

World Education Health and Literacy Compendium

World Education and its partners produce a variety of publications. Most can be downloaded from this site for free. This site includes a compendium of guides, handbooks, books, and other resources on the issues of literacy, health, and related issues.


A Vision for a Health Literate Canada: Report of the Expert Panel on Health Literacy

This report, prepared by Canada’s Public Health Leader’s Expert Panel on Health Literacy, consolidates the research on health literacy and points to changes in communication strategies, practices, procedures and policies that will ultimately improve health literacy and the well-being of all Canadians.

Communicating Health: Priorities and Strategies for Progress

This action plan, developed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, is intended to achieve the health communication objective 11.2 in Healthy People 2010―improvedhealthliteracy.

Health Literacy: A Prescription to End Confusion

This 2004 report, from the Institutes of Medicine (now the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine [NASEM]) examines the body of knowledge that applies to the field of health literacy and recommends actions to promote a health-literate society. NASEM also has more current health literacy reports.

Health Literacy Interventions and Outcomes

To synthesize the increasing volume of literature on health literacy, the HHS Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) commissioned the RTI International–University of North Carolina Evidence-Based Practice Center (RTI–UNC EPC) to provide a systematic literature review examining the effects of health literacy on health outcomes and interventions to improve those outcomes.

Healthy People

Healthy People, established by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, is a comprehensive set of disease prevention and health promotion objectives developed to improve the health of the nation. The Health Communication and Health Information Technology objectives address health literacy.

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): The Nation’s Report Card

NAEP is the only assessment that measures what U.S. students know and can do in various subjects across the nation, states, and in some urban districts. Subjects include reading, writing, math, and science. Also known as The Nation’s Report Card, NAEP has provided important information about how students are performing academically since 1969. You can also find additional information about NAEP.

Proceedings of the Surgeon General’s Workshop on Improving Health Literacy

This report discussed outcomes from the 2006 Surgeon General’s Workshop on Improving Health Literacy held by Acting Surgeon General Kenneth Moritsugu.

Program for the International Assessment of Adult Competencies (PIAAC)

This cyclical, large-scale study was developed under the auspices of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). It collects data in 24 countries on adults’ proficiency in three domains: literacy, numeracy, and problem-solving in technology-rich environments.

The Health Literacy of America’s Adults: Results from the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (NAAL)

These downloadable documents report the NAAL health literacy results. The results are based on assessment tasks specifically designed to measure the health literacy of adults living in the United States. Health literacy was reported using four performance levels: Below Basic, Basic, Intermediate and Proficient.

Toward Health Equity and Patient-Centeredness: Integrating Health Literacy, Disparities Reduction, and Quality Improvement. Workshop Summary

The Forum on the Science of Health Care Quality Improvement and Implementation, the Roundtable on Health Disparities, and the Roundtable on Health Literacy jointly convened the workshop “Toward Health Equity and Patient- Centeredness: Integrating Health Literacy, Disparities Reduction, and Quality Improvement” on May 12, 2008, to address issues surrounding quality and disparities, and the ability of individuals to make appropriate decisions based on basic health knowledge and services. During this workshop, speakers and participants explored how equity in care delivered and a focus on patients could be improved.


Equipped for the Future

Equipped for the Future was a national, standards-based, educational improvement initiative for adult basic education and English-language learning. The mission of this initiative was to provide the tools, professional development, and technical assistance to implement standards-based adult education in ways that meet the needs of adult learners.

National Health Education Standards

The National Health Education Standards (NHES) were developed by the American Cancer Society to establish, promote, and support health-enhancing behaviors for students in all grade levels, from pre-k through grade 12. The standards provide a framework for teachers, administrators, and policy makers to design or select curricula, allocate instructional resources, and assess student achievement and progress.

National Standards for Culturally and Linguistically Appropriate Services in Health Care

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Minority Health developed comprehensive standards on culturally and linguistically appropriate services (CLAS) in health care. CLAS standards are intended to advance health equity, improve quality, and help eliminate health care disparities by establishing a blueprint for health and health care organizations to respond to cultural and linguistic issues presented by diverse populations.

Training Programs

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Health Literacy Trainings

CDC offers several free, online, self-paced health literacy trainings in addition to the training you are taking now.

Non-CDC Training

Many non-CDC organizations offer training on health literacy, plain language, cultural and communication, consumer and patient skill building, and shared decision making.

User-Centered Design

Tools to Bring Human-centered Design into Your Project

Many subject-matter experts use the term “human-centered design” and “user-centered design” interchangeably. The human-centered design tools on this page help federal offices and other organizations carry out the phases of user-centered (or human-centered) design.

User-Centered Design Basics

Find the basics on the phases of the product design and development life-cycle and on how to gain an understanding of who will be using the product.